Fire and Circuses

Although I do not want to spend all my time looking backwards and I have already offered some thoughts on the past 18 months, I must not overlook some of the best things I have read on the net. It is, after all, from the net, in the form of email, blogs and links to articles, that I both acquire the majority of my information about what is going on in the world, and even more that I read the best of the analysis which inspires and intrigues me. I have now stopped engaging with the mainstream paper media with the exception of one weekly ‘local’ paper; why bother when one can read far better writing, engage with far more fascinating intellects, by scanning some blogs? So I will attempt to group some of the best writing I have found over the past year and add some observations of my own. Most of these links will be from two sources: the blogs of Ellen Moody (about whom I am writing a separate entry) and HarpyMarx – http://harpymarx.wordpress.com/ – whose political commentary is invaluable; her blog also has some great photography and very insightful linking of the personal and the political.

Fire and Circuses

In August last year there were riots in many British cities, including Birmingham; by chance I was driving through the centre of town when the riot was beginning – a number of young people, mostly but far from exclusively, from the BME community were obviously having a very good time. Things got a great deal more serious both in Birmingham and other cities overnight and in the following days. Not surprisingly there was universal condemnation from mainstream politicians, falling over themselves to demonstrate who could be most right-wing and reactionary. More surprising (though perhaps not really!) was the reaction of some from the far-left who to varying degrees bought into the socially dominant ruling-class reaction. In particular they were critical of the rioters for 2 reasons…

  1. that much of the rioting consisted of looting of shops, especially those stocking desirable goods such as fashionable clothes and electronic items.
  2. that the rioting lacked a defined political focus.

In truth both of these can be overstated, as there were people involved who did have a political programme, albeit not one likely to appeal to organised Marxists (ie: violent anarchy). But let us accept the premise in full. The thinking which would seem to lie behind this is that in proper revolutions – let us say 1642 or 1789 or 1917 – all those on the streets had no interest in any looting or acquisition of material goods, and instead were all highly conscious members of revolutionary parties operating on a detailed theoretical basis. Just to state the proposition illustrates its absurdity. And at a theoretical level it is quite extraordinary that any Marxist can discount the importance of material factors in the class struggle. It is as an argument which is profoundly warped, but comes out of the fact that the far-left in Britain is so tiny and lacks a significant base within the working-class.

However in the end the issue is a simple one, as it often is in political questions – whose side are you on? And there are only two sides – that of the rioters on the one, and that of the ruling class and its state apparatus on the other; there is not some third way. If you align yourself to the latter then you are aligning yourself with the forces of reaction. Ignoring this question leads into absurdities of the kind I have outlined above. One cannot allow the personal to intrude; I could have been a ‘victim’ of the rioters if I had been in the wrong place at the wrong time – this does not alter the stance I take. It reminds me of Tony Benn’s wrong-headedness over Oliver Cromwell. Benn argues that because Cromwell hung the mutineers at Burford, because he put the brakes on the English Revolution, because he was a brutal oppressor in Ireland, left-wingers should not side with him. This entirely misses the central historical truths, most important of which is that Cromwell cut the Kings effing head off! This was a revolutionary act which opened the way to change not only English history, but European history. If you oppose Cromwell you align yourself with  reactionaries and monarchists. Yes, I would have been strung up on a tree at Burford had I been politically active at the time ; that in no way alters the fact that Cromwell is a progressive figure. The crucial ‘which side are you on’ dilemma is not about Cromwell v The Levellers, it is about Cromwell v The Monarchy. Exactly the same applies to the rioters of 2012.

In terms of the specific events which sparked the first riot, in Tottenham, read….

http://harpymarx.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/when-will-we-get-justice/

Her conclusion that ‘This is class war.’ manages to state a great deal more succinctly than I have done the central issue!

From a mainstream perspective the following article from The Guardian is interesting….

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2011/aug/13/london-olympics-2012-riots

I like the link to the obscenity of the spending on The Olympics; the latter are brilliantly explored in a piece from The Independent…

http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/olympics/vip-treatment-life-is-golden-in-the-olympic-fast-lane-7782581.html?origin=internalSearch

2012 sees a proliferation of circuses – the Jubilee and the Olympics. Commentary on the former is probably unnecessary from a republican, socialist viewpoint (see remarks on Cromwell above!), but the latter is a con-trick of more advanced proportions. The Olympics are presented to us as a noble event, a shining example of a collection of virtues (honesty, fairness, amateurism, patriotism) which are set against the commercialism of, not only much modern sport, but much modern life. They are supposed to be something in which everyone can participate. Enormous effort is put into this by the BBC (to whom I shall return) and other parts of the state apparatus, especially schools. In reality the Olympics are a massive commercial enterprise. This is true both centrally, where companies have signed enormous sponsorship deals to get themselves associated with the values mentioned, and individually where the marketing operation is both slick and tacky. The most obscene example of the former is the fact that one of the sponsors is ATOS, the company which is making millions from running the operation which seeks to harass and intimidate the sick and vulnerable off their benefits. One can quite see why this company, which is involved in the exploitation and bullying of the powerless would like to get an association with fairness; the fact that the Olympics accepts their sponsorship illustrates just how little they are concerned with the values and ethical standards they seek to portray as central to their mission.

The BBC’s coverage of Olympic events (or pre-events at this stage) is slavish. This is not surprising as they are giving 24 hour coverage to the games and have sole rights to live events in Britain. How much they paid I do not know, but whatever it was it was too much. I would imagine the commercial broadcasters are rubbing their hands with glee as I am sure that with the exception of a few blue riband occasions most people will be profoundly uninterested in judo, archery, weight-lifting et al.. We can expect the coverage to be almost wholly uncritical – the unearthing of uncomfortable facts and scandals (ticket sales by corrupt officials for instance) is being left to the internet and print media.

All this is not to ignore the fact that for some people the Olympics are a big deal, just as the Jubilee was. However there are crucial differences. Attending the Olympics in no way implies acceptance of the hype or lies which surround them; it is not equivalent to waving a flag at a royal procession. There are fans of all these various sports who will take great enjoyment from being able to see (if they can obtain tickets) their particular enthusiasm played at a high level. Not only do I have no problem with this, I am among them as I have booked tickets to watch the British women’s football team; I will at least be able to report back on what attending an Olympic event is like!

I now realise that this blog will have to be split into parts or it will become absurdly lengthy. So…

End of Part 1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s